The basic rule of free-to-play

Posted: August 2, 2011 in Online games business

March 22, 2011 | Nicholas Lovell

A free-to-play game is fundamentally different from a traditional game.

It no longer seeks to charge every user the same amount of money for the same experience (a business model that is rooted in the atoms-based world where differentiating between customers was prohibitively expensive.


Instead, a successful free-to-play game follows the rule of zero-one-one-hundred

Zero, one, one hundred

A free-to-play game:

  • Enables a player to play the game for ever, for free, and gives them a good – even a great experience while doing it
  • It makes it easy for them to spend a dollar. Getting gamers to reach into their pocket the first time is hard. Making it as easy as possible for them to spend a tiny amount is very worthwhile
  • It lets them spend $100 per month. I’m not expecting them to spend this every month. I’m not sure that’s sustainable for many people. But in a free-to-play game, many people will only spend $1. To achieve a high ARPPU for a free-to-play game, you need have spend some people spending a lot more.

Isn’t that immoral? To push for high spenders.

My objective is to get people to be prepared to spend a day’s wages on something they love. In other walks of life, this would not be seen as unreasonable. A football fan spends that in a month. An Xbox gamer does. A dinner out with a loved one. A ticket for a concert or a show.

In the UK, a day’s wages is about £100. Is it unreasonable to think that someone who loves what you do would be happy to spend that much?

This is a fundamental change to how we think about media. If I spend £40 on Homefront and hate it. Tough. But in free-to-play, no-one is suckered into it by clever marketing. They have been playing the game, for free. They have decided that progress, or self-expression. or gifting is worth paying for. The reasons for paying will vary from person to person.

The constant is that they have chosen to pay. A wise game designer will create a range of different things for them to buy. A wiser game designer will ensure that those who love the game can spend $100 a month.


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